Emma came home Saturday afternoon. Paul Conley met her at the Oyster Bay railroad station. She could not wait to get home and see her brother, whom she had not seen for three years. The moment Paul parked the motor car in front of the house, she did not even wait for Paul to open the car. She came bouncing out to get in the house.
“Where is he? Where is Mr. Spencer?” she asked Mr. Yates excitedly as he opened the front door. Mr. Yates did not even have to tell her. They heard him running down the stairs, and as soon as he got down the hallway, the two siblings hugged each other.
“Let me look at you. You have grown up to be a beautiful lady,” Spencer said. Emma blushed. She was tall, slim, and fashionable. Her blond hair was cut short, and she was wearing an ankle-length peach dress that seemed to swing with her as she moved. She had matching shoes to go with her outfit.
“What about you? You don’t look so bad. You look dashing,” Emma said. “How was Europe? I bet you had a marvelous time.”
“Yes, I did, but I missed you and your antics.”
“Well, I missed you too.”
They saw the footman with her suitcases. Emma said, “John, you can take them to my room.”
Spencer went toward the drawing room, and Emma followed him. “Where is everyone?” Emma asked Spencer.
“Mother went out to play bridge, and Father went to see Alistair Prescott,” Spencer said.
“Talking of Alistair Prescott, did you find out why they want you home,” Emma asked.
“Sure I did. You will not believe when I tell you what happened.”
“What was it?” Emma was curious.
“Let me get us a drink first, then I’ll tell you.” Spencer went to the sideboard and poured himself a Scotch. He turned to Emma.
“I’ll have one too,” Emma said. Spencer poured one for her. They brought their drinks towards the settee by the fireplace.
“Cheers,” Spencer said and raised his glass.
“Welcome home,” Emma raised her glass. “So what happened? I’m listening.”
They sat opposite each other, and Spencer narrated everything that happened the night after he got home. When he was finished, Emma looked pensive. She thought of how Spencer must have felt with that enormous wealth and the burden attached to it. She loved her brother very much. They were always close since they were little. Finally, she said, “So you really have to learn the business? What a challenge that must be since you don’t have a clue what you are going to do.”
“Exactly. I have to learn everything about the business. It’s the reason why I want to start at the bottom. Maybe I am wrong, but that is how I feel. I don’t want to go to the bank and take over when I have no clue what is going on. It’s not fair to everyone and not fair to me. How can I talk intelligently if I don’t know what I’m talking about? It is not right. It will not make any sense, and the employees will know it, and they will talk behind my back. No, it is not going to happen. I want to know everything about banking.”
“That was smart of you. What did Father think of the idea?”
“He and Alistair were flabbergasted, but I insisted, so I start Monday from the bottom. I’ll join the rank and file.”
“Good for you. I wish I could work, but I have to finish college first. I have another year, and then I will join the work force,” Emma said.
Before the Nineteenth Amendment took effect, women were still considered second-class citizens, denied the right to vote, and confined mainly to careers as wives and mothers. After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, they not only joined men in the voting booth but with their emancipation, women would overnight set startling new standards in fashion and behavior. Their styles changed from clothes that went down to their ankles and long hair all pinned up to short skirts and short “bobbed” haircuts.
“You do not have to work. You’ll have plenty of money,” Spencer said.
“That is not the point. I want to work. Women have to be independent.”
Spencer whistled. “You’ll be independently wealthy after the probate. Since when did this transformation come about?” he asked.
“The whole world is changing. Women are making contributions, and I want to be a part of it. I don’t intend to be a trophy lady sitting at home waiting for my man to give me everything I need. That is not for me.”
Spencer looked at his sister with admiration. “Wow! You’re someone to reckon with. I do admire your courage.”
Spencer finished his drink and got up from the settee.
“Anyway, I’m going riding. Would you care to join me, or are you too tired from your trip?”
“Oh no. Give me half an hour to change, and I’ll go with you. We can race to the playhouse.”
“You’re incorrigible.” Spencer laughed. His sister had not changed one bit, always challenging him. “OK, half an hour. I’ll change too. See you at the stable.
Emma ran upstairs, and Spencer rang the house bell. Mr. Yates appeared.
“Yates, I’m going riding with Miss Emma. Can you tell the groom to get our horses ready in half an hour?”
“Yes, Mr. Spencer. Right away.”
“Thank you, Yates.”
“You’re welcome, sir.” Mr. Yates went towards the servant’s quarter in the back, and Spencer went upstairs to change.
The following day, Mr. Yates packed some clothes for Spencer to go to the city and stay at their Fifth Avenue place since he would now be working at Wentworth Bank. He could always go back to Long Island on weekends if he wanted to. His parents would be staying at Wentworth Hall until the end of September as usual unless they were traveling. They would move back to the city from October 1 to the end of March.
His work week would be a long day since he intended to learn everything he could as he plunged ahead and so staying in the city made more sense. It would be a totally different lifestyle for him from now on, a sudden change from the carefree life he was engaged in while abroad. Now he had the enormous responsibility. For a young man who was not even thirty, he was faced with the big realization that he had to work harder than most men his age. Not that he needed to, but he had to even with his vast wealth. More so now because of his legacy. He could certainly leave everything to his father’s employees and let them run the whole thing, but he believed that was not what his grandfather desired. He wanted a young heir to perpetuate his legacy, and if his grandfather believed in his ability, he had every intention to prove that his grandfather was right.
He had to honor and protect the legacy that his grandfather handed to him. He had a duty to work diligently and protect his wealth. It came with a big responsibility that would weigh on his shoulder all his life. Since the night he was told he inherited the vast fortune from his grandfather, it had been on his mind. It kept him awake all night, thinking what he wanted to do and how to tackle this responsibility head-on. Nothing prepared him for this unexpected turn of events. His carefree life abroad certainly did not. He had a lot of learning to do. Can he do it? He would try his best to prove to himself that he could. Not just to his parents, but more importantly, to himself.
Smartly clad in his Savile Row suit that he bought in and brought from England, a starched white shirt, and regimental tie, Spencer went to see George at the executive office of Wentworth Bank on Monday morning his first day at work. His Savile Row suit was stylishly cut and handmade with perfect tailoring. They betrayed who he was, a wealthy young man. He was the quintessence of sartorial elegance. He disliked anything shoddy, and his weakness for fine clothes was one of his few indulgences that he cultivated while abroad. That he could not change nor wanted to change. It defined who he was. He always believed that a good impression made a vast difference in how his future employees would perceive him. Clothes always make a man and one can always tell who you are by your clothes.
They rode down the elevator to see Tom Cartwright, the branch manager of the Fifth Avenue branch. Tom Cartwright saw them as they entered the bank. Tom was not expecting them, and he was wondering why a sudden visit from George Wentworth, the bank president, and who was this tall, young, good-looking fellow with him? Tom ushered them into his office. It was a small office with just the essential furniture, two chairs for clients, a desk and a chair for Tom, a bookcase, and a console table.
As soon as they entered the office, Tom closed the door. “What can I do for both of you?” Tom said and looked at Spencer. George read his mind and introduced Spencer.
“Tom, meet my son. His name is Spencer,” George said. Tom was taken aback and didn’t know what to say. George turned to Spencer. “Spencer, I want you to meet Tom Cartwright, our branch manager.”
Spencer smiled and extended his hand. “Hello, Mr. Cartwright. Glad to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, Spencer.” Tom noticed the firm handshake, a good sign. This kid was brought up properly, he thought. He didn’t know George had a son, but he was pretty new to the bank and had only been there for two years. He had never seen him before, nor could he remember an instance when George ever mentioned a son.
“I didn’t know you had a son. Where was he hiding all this time?” Tom jokingly said to George.
“He was abroad.”
Tom motioned to the chairs. “Have a seat.” George and Spencer both sat in the leather armchair in front of Tom’s desk. Tom waited. He still was not sure what this was all about. The kid probably wanted his job. However, he was too young to take his place. He hoped not, but you would never know. He began to wonder. After all, he was the son and heir to the boss.
“You are probably wondering why we are here,” George interrupted Tom’s trend of thoughts. “Spencer just came back from Europe a week ago, and I have decided to put him to work. I thought I could find a place for him in the bank.” He paused and waited for Tom’s reaction.
“Welcome aboard,” Tom said. He presumed Spencer would be working at the corporate office, and he probably had to report to Spencer.
George glanced at Spencer, who smiled. Spencer did not say a word. George continued, “He does not want to work at the corporate office.”
Tom was suddenly curious. “No? Why not? Where does he want to work?”
“Here,” George said and turned to Spencer. “You tell him.”
Spencer nodded. “Mr. Cartwright, I want to start at the bottom. I have no experience in banking or anywhere else, for that matter. I need some kind of experience. I want to understand how the bank works thoroughly. I want to be a teller.”
Tom’s jaw dropped. He could not help staring at Spencer. “Holy smoke! Why? Why would you want to do that? Most young men wanted to start at the top. You want to start at the bottom?”
“You might think I’m crazy. But I need to start somewhere. As I said, I don’t have any experience. None whatsoever. I’m not afraid nor ashamed to start at the bottom. It’s just temporary until I learn the basics,” Spencer said matter-of-factly.
“I’m sure you have a college degree from one of the top colleges.” Tom didn’t know which Ivy League school Spencer went to.
“I have. I went to Harvard.” Spencer looked at his father, but George let him do the talking.
“So there you are,” Tom said.
“It’s not that simple.”
“What do they teach at Harvard?”
“They teach a lot of business theories, but I still need actual business experience. I want to learn the whole banking system. There is something to be said about hands-on experience. No books can duplicate that. I have to start somewhere, and the most practical thing is to start from scratch. Like a kid learning to read, you learn your ABCs first, and that’s what I want to do.”
Tom scratched his head. He did not know what to make of this young man. From how he looks, he could be the president of this company right now or sit on the board, and no one would question it. After all, he was the grandson of the bank’s founder and the heir to the president. But here he was in front of him, applying for a teller’s job. He was totally dumbfounded. This was unheard of.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Tom asked Spencer, then looked at George.
“I said the same thing. Our attorney said the same thing. He was adamant,” George said.
“Really, sir, I want to do this. It’s rather unorthodox, but here’s what I propose. I’ll work as a teller for a month. Maybe a month and a half. Then I can move to the next step, which I told my father. I can go to the loan department next and be a loan officer. That way, I can learn all the rules and workings of giving out a loan. Once I figure everything, I can move to the accounting department and see how that department works. This way, I can see the whole process, and then I can figure out what works and what does not work. I can observe and make the necessary recommendations.”
“I see your point. I understand what you want to accomplish. If you feel comfortable doing the work of a teller, more power to you. I’m more than happy to put you on the floor. I give you a lot of credit.” Tom turned to George and said, “You have raised a fine young man.”
“Thank you. I’m sure the set-up will work fine for him and us,” George said. He stood, shook hands with Tom, and left to go to the executive office upstairs and let Tom handle Spencer.
And so it began. Tom took Spencer to the floor. All eyes were on Spencer, and he felt a bit uncomfortable. He did not know what to expect. Tom introduced him to the head teller, David Brennan. David, a red-haired son of an Irish immigrant, was a year younger than Spencer and had been with the bank for a couple of years. Tom hired David after he started as a branch manager.
“David, I want you to meet Spencer Wentworth,” Tom said.
David knotted his brow. “Wentworth? Any relation to the bank?” David asked.
“Yes, he is the son of George Wentworth, our president,” Tom said.
“Oh my! Glad to meet you,” David said and offered his hand.
“Nice meeting you too,” Spencer said and shook hands.
“What can I do for you, Spencer?” David asked.
Spencer looked at Tom, who said, “He will start working with us starting today.”
David’s jaw dropped. “You mean here, not upstairs.”
Spencer nodded. Tom said, “He wants to be a teller.”
“A teller?” David gave Spencer a questioning look. “I’ll be darned.”
“Never mind that. Just show him how things work here and see that he learns everything,” Tom said.
“OK, boss. No problem.”
Tom left them and went back to his office.
“Follow me,” David said, and they went to the back office where there was a working table. David picked up a deposit ticket and showed Spencer how to handle the deposit. Then he showed his new student how to count money, reconcile the daily receipt, and talk to customers. Spencer took few notes, listened carefully, and paid close attention while David Brennan explained everything on what had to be done from the time you start the day until you close at night.
“Any questions,” David asked after the lecture.
“I’m sure I can handle it. Easy enough. I have to practice counting the bill faster. Is there a trick to that?” Spencer asked.
“Yes, make sure everything is in the same direction. It’s easier that way.”
“Good to know. Thank you very much,” Spencer said.
“You’re welcome. By the way, can I ask you a stupid question if you don’t mind?” David said.
“Why are you doing this? Your father is the president of the bank. You can just work with him, not here,” David said.
“I have my reason, and people will never understand it. I have no business experience whatsoever, and I want to learn everything there is to learn about the banking industry. From soup to nuts. Does that make sense?” Spencer said.
David thought about it for a moment and nodded his head. “I guess so.”
“I want a feel of the place so I can make recommendations to my father,” Spencer said.
“Well, if you need anything, just let me know. Welcome aboard. I’m happy to have you around.”
“Thanks. I do appreciate it,” Spencer said. He likes David.
“Shall we go on the floor? I want you to watch me all morning, and then you can officially be on the window this afternoon. How’s that?”
They went to the floor, and Spencer stationed himself behind David while David was taking the customer’s deposit, and in the afternoon, Spencer began his job as a teller. The day went by quickly, and by the end of the day, he was confident enough to process the day’s transactions. By Friday, he knew what was going on the floor and took notes mentally to report to his father by the weekend.
Spencer took to the job like fish to water. He got along very well with everyone on the floor with his easy-going ways, but he did not want to be too familiar with everyone. Spencer, who learned fast, was a great role model for his co-employees. He worked hard and wanted to know everything. He was pleasant and polite and greeted the customers with that winning smile that won the hearts of their customers. He was very friendly with everyone, but there was a social divide between him and most employees. His co-employees knew who he was, and they respected him. They treated him the same way as everyone, yet they knew he was different from everyone else on the floor. The ways and habits of the people below his social strata were so different than the way he was brought up, but he tried to take it in stride. He realized that someday he would take the helm of the company, and so he had to keep his distance but still remained friendly to gain their respect.
Having a Wentworth on the tellers’ floor was unheard of, and the employees loved it. The customers loved it. Spencer was a sensation. With his good looks and easy smile, he gained the customers’ confidence, and female customers flocked to the bank when they heard about the new teller. Wives of owners of small businesses urged their husbands to transfer their accounts to Wentworth Bank. George was very pleased, and so was Tom Cartwright.
Spencer did not just learn the job. He observed and made notes on where they could improve. He saw there were only two tellers at one time, and the line was getting longer.
“We have to install more tellers to service the customers,” he told his father one day.
“But that would cost the bank more money to hire more employees,” George said.
“But look at what it would create—better service for the customer and less wait on line. When people spread the excellent service we provide, they will tell their friends. Word will spread out, and we will gain more business. We shall also have someone greet our customers when they enter the bank and answer questions.”
“Let me bring this up with Tom. I see the merit of your suggestions. I’m sure he’ll agree with me.”
By the time he left the floor and moved to the loan department, Tom had hired two more tellers and a receptionist to sit near the front door to greet customers. Tom was very pleased with the improvement because, as Spencer predicted, the business improved significantly with word of mouth, spreading the excellent service Wentworth Bank provided their customers. When it was time for him to leave the branch, his co-workers on the floor were sad to see him go when he transferred to the loan department.
Spencer worked as a teller for just over a month. Then he transferred to the Loan Department under Albert Johnson, the Loan Department head. He was given a desk, not a private office. It was a little disturbing for some loan processors to have the son of the bank’s president working with them. But Spencer proved to be an excellent addition to the department.
“I advise you to come to training with us,” Albert Johnson told Spencer the following day after starting at the Loan Department.
“Absolutely. I’d love to go.”
“We’ll have it at the conference room every morning the next three days. We’ll go over the various forms and different guidelines.”
“That would be wonderful. I’ll be there. Will they teach us how to fill up the various forms?”
So he went to training with the other loan officers the following day. He asked questions when he thought he did not understand something. He practiced filling up forms following all the guidelines. He learned about all kinds of fees and loan to assets ratios and interest rates and different types of loans. It was like going to class in Finance 101, but this was hands-on. He found every aspect of loan processing very interesting, from the time they received the application form to the final approval by the loan officer. He also found out that it took a couple of weeks to get a loan approved. That should not be the case. He observed why it was taking so long to process a loan. It should be done in a week. He made notes and submitted them to his father.
“There should be a checklist of what the bank needs when someone applies for a loan. This way, when we get the paperwork, it was just a matter of checking them and running the numbers. The process should move from the application to the underwriting and final approval in a week,” Spencer told his father.
“So why do you think it took so long?” George asked.
“There was so much time wasted between each process. All applications received in the morning should be processed by the end of the day and go to the next process the next day. I saw some applications sitting on the loan processor’s desk for several days. It should not be that way.”
“There must be a reason why it was sitting there for so long,” George said.
“I don’t see any except employees spending too much time socializing. I’ve been observing everyone each day.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea? You, watching every move they make.”
“If we have to make money, we have to be efficient.”
“Maybe the volume of loan applications has increased.” George tried to reason out. He was uncomfortable making drastic changes in the department.
“If that’s the case, we have to hire more people to handle the increase in the volume of loan applications or let the loan department personnel stay late.”
Spencer wondered why it took so long for the underwriters to process the loan. So while he was there, he timed himself and knew it could be done. He then reported his findings to his father at their next meeting.
A month later, he started calling some new businesses and asked them if he could help them with their new endeavors. He would explain the advantage of having enough capital to get their business going. Then he started taking in large commercial accounts. He spent three months in the loan department. As he grew accustomed to his work, he gave reports to his father once a week. George was very pleased with his progress. The bank was doing a brisk business since he came on board.
By late August, Spencer decided he would take a break and go to Long Island at the end of the month and enjoy the end of the summer. He had been with the loan department for three months and working very hard. He needed a break. He called his mother and told her he would be home at the end of the month. He was looking forward to being in the country after the oppressive summer heat in the city and go riding. Within minutes after he hung up the phone, he got a call from his father.
“Can you come to my office during your lunch break?” George said.
“Sure. I’ll be over.” He hung up the phone and wondered what his father wanted to talk about.
At about noon, he took the elevator to the executive office. As soon as he approached the desk of Mrs. Perkins, George’s secretary, she said, “Mr. Wentworth is expecting you. You may just knock and go in.”
He knocked softly at the door and walked in. George motioned him to sit down.
“Thanks. What’s up?” Spencer asked.
“Your mother just called and said you are going to Wentworth Hall at the end of the month. I’m glad to hear that you are taking a break,” George said.
“I want to take advantage of what little is left of the summer. I miss riding, and it will do me some good to get some exercise.”
“Of course. You’ve been working hard. Do you think you are ready for the next move?” George asked.
Spencer looked at his father, knowing his father could not wait to get him to the executive office, and said, “I believe I am. I enjoyed working for the loan department, and I believe I have absorbed a lot of knowledge there. Yes, I’m now ready to go to the Finance Department.”
“Excellent. I’ll take you to see William Storms, our Controller, next week, and you can work in the Accounting Department in September.”
“I would like to start at the Account Payable section if you don’t mind and see how all the expenses are treated. I think it is vital to know how we spent the company’s money.”
“That’s excellent. We are always interested in our income, but we also should manage our expenses prudently,” George said.
“I had that in mind.”
“Perfect,” George said.
Spencer was about to get up when George asked, “What are you doing for lunch?”
“As usual. I’ll eat at the cafeteria.”
“How about going out with me to lunch for a change?” George asked.
“That would be great. Let me tell Albert I’ll be a little late coming back,” Spencer said.
“No need to. I’ll let Mrs. Perkins do that for you,” George said and picked up the phone.
“Mrs. Perkins, can you call Albert Johnson and tell him I’m having a lunch meeting with Spencer and he will be gone for a couple of hours?”
“Sure. Anything else, sir?”
“That’s it. Thank you, Mrs. Perkins.”
“We’re going to the Knickerbocker, by the way,” George said and hung up.